ATLANTA -- Maryland quarterback Scott McBrien came into last night's game against Georgia Tech confident he was about to play his best game of the season.
It turned out to be his shortest game of the year.
McBrien left with a concussion in the second quarter, and that was all the advantage Georgia Tech needed to end Maryland's five-game winning streak, 7-3, in a sloppy, defensive struggle in front of 51,524 at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
"I'm really disappointed right now," said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen. "Everything was right there for us. Now we're right back in the pack with two [conference] losses. ... Hopefully we can finish strong and see if we can get to a good bowl game, but that's not a lock with the way we're playing."
Maryland (5-3, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) had more total yards (253 to 228) than Georgia Tech (5-3, 3-2) and still had a shot at a last-minute comeback despite four turnovers, but the Terps couldn't quite muster enough offense behind freshman quarterback Joel Statham, who replaced McBrien late in the second quarter and completed 10 of 22 passes for 110 yards.
Statham led Maryland on its only scoring drive of the night, but he also threw an interception and had a critical fumble in the third quarter that led to Tech's only points.
"He did some good things," Friedgen said. "He obviously got put in a tough situation, but I thought he kept his poise for the most part."
The fact that Statham was even in the game was surprising. Statham, who played his high school ball in nearby Chatsworth, Ga., began the week as the team's third-string quarterback, but Friedgen elevated him on Wednesday after he decided to suspend backup Orlando Evans one game for violating team rules.
As a result, Statham got a very limited amount of reps during practice, which made reading the Yellow Jackets' defense a tough task. "I felt like I should have been more prepared," said Statham, who estimated he had between 15 and 20 family members in the crowd. "I wasn't reading the defenses like I should have been."
Despite losing McBrien, who had started 22 straight games coming in, the Terps still had a shot at winning thanks to their defense, which held Georgia Tech's offense without a point for three quarters.
That was crucial because Statham got off to a shaky start, throwing three passes that could have been intercepted in the third quarter. He also showed some guts and poise, however, converting several third-down plays.
Statham made his best throw of the night in the third quarter, stepping up in the pocket and hitting wide receiver Steve Suter for a 32-yard gain on third-and-12. The play gave the Terps the ball on Tech's 22-yard line and, four plays later, kicker Nick Novak hit a 35-yard field goal to give Maryland a 3-0 lead.
Maryland's defense was playing so well, stuffing the run and pressuring Yellow Jackets quarterback Reggie Ball that, improbably, it looked as if the lead might hold up. But Georgia Tech got the break it needed just before the end of the third quarter when Statham held the ball a little too long in the pocket and Keyaron Fox nailed him from behind at the Terps' 35, forcing a fumble.
The ball bounced off the turf, then pinballed off players from both teams for a good five seconds before finally winding up in the hands of Yellow Jackets cornerback Jonathan Cox, who returned it to the 18-yard line before being tackled by Terps center Kyle Schmidt.
Five plays later, Georgia Tech took the lead for good when Ball found receiver Jonathan Smith open in the back of the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown.
"That sack was the critical play of the game," Friedgen said. "If we don't make that error, we may win the game, 3-0. He's just trying to make a play there, but [Statham) has to learn that sometimes you just tuck it away and live to fight another day."
It wasn't anyone's idea of a pretty game.
In the first half, things started out ugly for both teams and deteriorated from there. Maryland turned the ball over twice on its first two possessions and failed to score in the first quarter for the first time this season.
On the Terps' first possession, Georgia Tech safety James Butler stepped in front of a McBrien pass at midfield and, after a defensive stand, Maryland gave it up again on a fumble by running back Bruce Perry.
The second turnover was more costly, because it came at the Georgia Tech 20 and derailed a promising, nine-play drive.
Thing went from bad to worse for the Terps late in the second quarter when McBrien turned up field on an option deep in Maryland territory and got nailed by safety Dawan Landry after a 5-yard gain. When he went out for the first play of the next series, he couldn't remember the play by the time he got to the huddle.
He stayed in for five more plays, and actually ran once for three yards to help set up a 37-yard field goal attempt, but Novak missed it wide left, his first miss from inside 40 yards this season.
McBrien didn't come out of the locker room after halftime, and Maryland did its best to run the ball to protect Statham, but Georgia Tech stuffed the Terps with a series of blitzes. Statham, who redshirted last season, came into the game with only one career pass attempt.
"When they see a freshman quarterback out there, it's like sharks sniffing blood in the water," Maryland offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe said.
The Terps had one final chance with 23 seconds left, but Statham threw three straight incompletions from their 28.
Next for Terps
Matchup:North Carolina (1-6, 0-3) vs. Maryland (5-3, 2-2)
Site:Byrd Stadium, College Park
When:Nov. 1, noon
TV/Radio:Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)
Tomorrow:North Carolina plays at Clemson.